Last Updated on October 1, 2022 by Andrew Pirie
(9 June 1942 – 21 Dec 2017)
Photo Credit: Philippine Daily Inquirer Online
Revised 6 times First Published July 11, 2013
I would likely share another great tale of one of our countries legendary female sprinters Mona Sulaiman with the athletic community.
Compiled by Pirie Enzo: but contributed by various sources, including Mr. Ignacio Dee.
Long before Lydia De Vega captivated our nation. Even before she was born.
There was a barefooted girl from Cotabato.
Who would become Asia’s First double gold winner in the sprints?
Her name was Mona Coco Sulaiman (sometimes spelled Solaiman).
Mona Sulaiman was also the first Filipina to win three golds in a single Asian Games.
This took place in Jakarta in 1962.
While Four years earlier, Inocencia Solis had won the Philippines’ first gold medal in the Women’s 100m.
Also, Mona Sulaiman would surpass and replace Solis as the dominant sprinter of the 1960s.
The first national champion in the pentathlon (1963).
Five-time national champion in the shot put a six-time national champion in the 100m and 200m event.
And was a discus throw national champion?
Mona Sulaiman competed in the 1960 (Rome) and 1964 (Tokyo) Olympics.
Hence Mona Sulaiman was known as a fiery competitor.
She once reportedly hurled a discus at rowdy onlookers during a local athletic meet.
Mona Sulaiman Discovery and Early Days
Mona Sulaiman was born to a Policeman Kudelat and Aminan Sulaiman on June 9th, 1942, in a small Barrio in Cotabato.
She was the eldest of five children.
While from the age of seven, she represented Cotobato Elementary School.
Sulaiman was first spotted by an official of the Bureau of public schools.
While at a sports meet in her school in 1957 playing softball, she was in the 5th grade and only 15.
While this was a turning point and beginning of her athletics career when the school official returned to the division superintendent’s office in Cotabato.
Furthermore, they sent for a local coach who would test out her skills on the athletic track.
The three were impressed and told Officials incredible stories about her speed on the cinder.
Also, about this barefoot Muslim Girl.
Hence it was the end of softball for Mona Sulaiman.
At the National Scholastic meet in Lingayen, Pangasinan, a coach from Far Eastern University would recruit her.
Also, Mona Sulaiman would study for a degree in Management.
Mona recalls how Professor Ruperto Evangelista contributed a lot towards her coaching.
Most noteworthy, Evangelista was the mastermind behind several gold medals at the Asian games during the 1960s.
Mona Sulaiman The Olympian
Three years later, at the age of 18, she went to the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
Sulaiman made the second round of the 100m and was eliminated in the 200m.
Although Mona Sulaiman failed to land any honors in Rome.
She came home, as she describes it, several times richer inexperience.
Most noteworthy From US champion Wilma Rudolph.
Sulaiman learned to improve her running techniques and discovered how to put her 58, 130-pound frame to the best advantage.
Also, she learned to combine her long strides with breathing and speed techniques.
Yet while largely self-taught, she incorporated the techniques into her training regimen.
Such diligence earned her a double victory in the 1962 Asian Games in Indonesia and a slot in the country’s team to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
13 August 1961 Malacca Games, The women’s sprint was Mona Sulaiman’s all the way.
A powerful runner, she was well in the lead by the halfway mark and was clear at the tape.
“Inocencia Solis was the smoother sprinter but Mona was more powerful,” said Romeo Sotto, the ex-discus king who was in two Asian Games.
Mona Sulaiman Asian Champion
In the national track and field meet, she proved her prowess at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. She chalked up several national record-breaking feats in her two favorite events: 11.9 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 24.6 seconds in the 100-meter dash. Also, she anchored her team in the 400 x 100-meter relay as well.
Mona Sulaiman 100m Asian Games 1962 (30 Aug): 3 Heats (August): 2 semi-finals (August):
and eliminated no competitors in the heats.
While the purpose of which appears to have been to assist in the seeding of the semi-finals.
Even though all starters in the heats qualified for the semi-finals, there were was still some good running; Inokuchi equaled the Games record of 12.5 in the first trial, and in the second heat, Sulaiman shattered the record with an 11.9 clocking.
The third heat went to Yoda in 12.3. Yet, the winners of the semi-finals were Sulaiman (12.1) and Yoda (12.2).
Sulaiman always had the final well in hand and further improved the Games Record.
Solis, the defending champion, finished back in fifth place behind Ratnam, who set a new National Record (from Handbook of the Far East and Asian Games by Ian Buchanon ATFS, 1974).
1. Mona Sulaiman Philippines 11.8
2. Ikoku Yoda Japan 12.3
3. Takuko Inokuchi Japan 12.3
4. Loraine Ratnam Sri Lanka 12.4
5. Inocencia Solis Philippines 12.8
6. Ernawati Indonesia 13.1
To the glory of her country in the international events, she was a winner of two gold medals since she finished the 100-meter race in 11.93 seconds ahead of two Japanese runners.
Also, I’m not sure how Wikipedia got the electronic time?
Were electronics even invented back in 1962? I know by 1968, Tokyo Olympics electronics was the first fully auto system in place at an Olympic Games.
200m Asian Games 1962 (28 Aug): 3 heats (27 Aug): 2 semi-finals (28 Aug)
As in the 100 meters, the heats served only to assist in seeding the semi-finals and eliminating no runners.
While despite the non-competitive nature of the first round, Sulaiman set a new Games record when she won the second heat in 24.7.
In the first semi-final, Sulaiman improved to 24.4, which equaled the Asian Recordset by Sim Keun Den of North Korea in 1960. Okudaira took the second semi-final in 26.1.
As expected, Sulaiman outclassed the field in the final, and the surprise of the race was Dissanyaka, who set a Ceylonese record.
1. Mona Sulaiman Philippines 24.5
2. Haruko Yamakazi Japan 25.7
3. Nirmala Nimal Dissanayaka Ceylon 25.8
4. Yoshiko Okudaira Japan 25.8
5. Soertami Indonesia 26.7
6. Lily Tan Malaya 27.1
The 200-meter sprint in 24.63 seconds, according to Wikipedia.
Also, again, as above, I’m not sure of the electronic timing present?
But the semi-final run was faster on hand times for Sulaiman.
She tossed the spheroid 39.11 feet in the shot, put (11.97m), winning bronze an unprecedented fourth medal.
Her inclusion in the Tokyo event sent big sponsors such as Philippine Airlines on a race, too.
Yet San Miguel Brewery pitched in for Sulaiman’s six-month training at the University of Oregon.
Also, She was accompanied by former Shotput Record Holder and coach Soccoro Baldomero Paglinawan who acted as a translator for Sulaiman, who spoke little English.
While tapped as her official trainers were university track and field coach Bill Bowerman and Bro. Iking Gonzales.
In addition, local shoe brands Elpo and Spartan helped her hurdle Portland‘s inclined roads.
After less than three weeks of training, Sulaiman clocked 10.6 for the 100m Yards, just 3/10 off the world record.
Consequently, she returned to the Olympics in 1964 in Tokyo but failed to live up to her reputation as Asia’s sprint queen, again failing to qualify for the 100m and 200m events finals.
Furthermore, Sulaiman would throw the Shotput the following year in Tacloban to 13.60m which stood as the Filipino National Record until it was broken five years later by Fil-heritage athlete Josephine de la Vina at a meet in the United States.
She would qualify for the 1966 Asian Games when she ran 25.1 secs at the national trials; however, she refused to take a gender test which barred her from participating in those games.
Sulaiman 100 and 200m National Records stood until the early ’70s when Amelita Alanes broke them.
Sulaiman’s career came to a cruel end with questions and rumors circulating about her gender.
Sulaiman, for the record, states.
I was nursing a bad case of flu at that time and decided to forego the medical check-up because of my health condition.
She was surprised that her refusal was blown-up as a gender issue, Sulaiman adds.
As I understood it, it became big news back home, shocking thousands of my fans.
It might have made a few media careers, she says bitterly,but did they ever care about the deep hurt it had created?
The gender flap nipped in the bud what could have been a glorious sports career, and Sulaiman has kept her counsel since then, staying away from interviews and being wary of publicity.
Pag gusto ko ang tanong, sasagutin ko (If I like the question, I’ll answer it), she tells this writer.
Her world, she recounts, was turned upside down by the rumor.
Not a day passed that people did not ask me about that gender issue.
The wife of a Visayan local official then once came up to me to ask about my true (sexual) identity, and I was so aghast that I dared her to allow her husband to sleep with me overnight.
The sense of intrusion became so overwhelming that Sulaiman felt forebodings of physical harm.
Also, she decided to pack a pair of .45 cal—guns on her waist to protect herself.
While confused, she started doubting even her athletic prowess.
Did people seek her out because she had brought honor to the country, or were they only after her as an object of curiosity?
Nothing seemed concrete, she recalls feeling then.
Plagued by self-doubts, Sulaiman eventually lost interest in sports competitions. And dropped out of the scene.
Also, she took various jobs after college: a checker at the Manila Appliance Center for two years; a staff assistant in Guam for a local film producer, a bit player in 1978.
Yet she appeared in 18 movies under Junar Productions, taking second lead roles at the urging of actor-producer Jun Aristorenas and wife, Virginia Soliman.
Among her memorable movies, says Sulaiman, are Sta. Fe, The Panther, Akoy Lupa, and Interpol Malaysia.
Another movie project, Asian La Luma with Nida Blanca and Pepito Rodriguez, fizzled out.
There were also offers to do TV commercials and a flight stewardess job for Philippine Airlines, says the former champ, but they didn’t work out.
She tried her hand in small ventures as a supplier of Mindanao goods, manager of three beer gardens in Pasay City, and a proprietor of a mini-grocery.
Only the grocery remains in operation.
Shrugs Sulaiman: I easily get fed-up with running a business.
I can’t stay long enough to see it grow.
Perhaps my heart still hankers for sports, where I truly belong.
To indulge herself, she joins athletic events on her own.
Bagging a gold each in the shot put and discus throw events at the Asian Veterans Championship Meet in Bangkok, Thailand, last year.
Nothing short of what I could call my legacy, she confesses.
She’s also found time to travel.
Spending her savings to visit pineapple magnate King Parker in Hawaii.
Another friend in San Francisco and a colleague in Malaysia.
Also, Sulaiman relishes her closeness to the Marcoses, who once gifted her with a 30-cc Honda motorcycle.
Sulaiman, during the 90s, was a PSC Consultant; according to her former colleagues, her last known address was Pasay.
In October 2016, Sulaiman reportedly used a wheelchair.
She died in Manila on December 21 at the age of 75 after a lingering illness.
List of Performances by Mona Coco Sulaiman
- 1960 Olympics Rome 100m: heats – 2h2 12.1ht, 12.40a (National Junior Record) : quarter-finals – 6h1 12.4ht, 12.54a
- 1960 Olympics Rome 200m: heats – 4h4 25.8ht, 25.98a (National Junior Record)
- 1961 Singapore Open 11.37m (Phi Record)
- 1962 National Games Rizal Memorial 24.58a (Phi Record)
- National Games Rizal Memorial 11.88m (Phi Record)
- Asian Games
- 100m Final: 11.93a Gold (Phi Record)
- 200m Final: 24.63a Gold
- 4x100m Final: 48.67 Gold (Phi Record)
- Shotput: 11.97m Bronze (Phi Record)
- Asian Games
- National Games Rizal Memorial 11.88m (Phi Record)
- Olympic Rome 100m: heats 7h1 12.0w
- Olympics Tokyo 200m: heats 4h5 25.4w
- Olympic Tokyo 4x100m: heats 7h2 48.8
- 1965 National Games Tacloban Shotput: 13.60m (Phi Record)
Mona Sulaiman was the first Filipina Sprinter to break the 12 seconds mark. And the only Filipina sprinter who became a champion at Asian Level from Mindanao.
She continued on the legacy taking over as the countries Premier sprinter from Inocencia Solis, who ruled the 1950’s.
Mona ruled the 1960’s.
The powerfully built sprinter even trained in the United States to gain further technical advances.
Because of her masculine build, she often faced questions regarding her gender. But these were never proven as she never underwent a gender test that proved otherwise.
Later in life, Mona, like most aging athletes struggling to make ends meet, drifting from job to job and never receiving any form of compensation from the government.
- Buchanan, Ian; A Handbook of the Far East and Asian Games (1973)
- http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1310&dat=19640426&id=uwBWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-uIDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6661,5343178 (very old news clipping from 1964)
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Andrew was elected Vice President of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians in 2020 after being a member for 7 years.
He has worked as a PSC Consultant and Research Assistant from 2013-2015, Consultant, and Sprint Coach at Zamboanga Sports Academy from 2015-2017. And Currently is Consultant Coach with VMUF 2021-
Current editor and chief of Pinoyathletics.info, and has recently done consultancy work for Ayala Corp evaluating the Track and Field Program.
Coaches Sprints, Middle and Jump events he is Level 3 Athletics Australia Coaching Certification in Sprints and Hurdles.
Currently working towards a Masters Degree in Education.
He can be contacted on [email protected]
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